The guys in Blue Highways have been a working unit long enough to know -- in their case, anyway -- the sum is greater than the parts. This group of seasoned musicians, based in northern Monmouth County, a.k.a., “the Jersey Shore,” have been working together since 1994.
Blue Highways play an artful blend of roots-rock, blues and country-flavored original songs, as well as select covers from the classic rock songbook. The band includes co-founder Bob Scrabis on guitar and vocals. Guitarist Gordon 'Bunker' Strout gives the band its distinctive, driving lead guitar treatments, while bassist Kenny Ramos and drummer Don Stoll provide a solid rhythmic foundation for their unique, soul-filled melodies. The band’s sound is at times reminiscent of the Allman Brothers, the Who and the Rolling Stones with some raw country and blues elements thrown into the mix.
Working at Retromedia Sound Studios in Red Bank, and other area recording studios with producers John Noll and Ron Howden, the drummer from the British orchestral rock band, Nektar, Blue Highways have recorded two albums of inspired original songs, “Late, Lit and Loaded,” released in 2002, and 2005’s “Never Again Until Next Time.” Howden took a keen interest in the band and worked closely with them on their debut. Noll has also worked with the band at his Retromedia Studios in Red Bank for their second album.
As one of the main songwriters for the band, Scrabis counts among his influences people like Neil Young, Gram Parsons, The Band and Bob Dylan. “We write a lot of our lyrics and then we kind of work out arrangements for our originals in rehearsal,” said singer-guitarist Scrabis, a Princeton University alumnus. The band continues to rehearses religiously. despite an increasingly busy schedule. “We democratically throw song ideas out in rehearsals and then work them out there,” Scrabis explained of the band’s approach to songwriting. And sometimes, newer original songs are finished in front of a live audience at places like D'Arcy's Tavern. Originally Barry’s Tavern, D'Arcy's in Bradley Beach has been the band’s home, where Blue Highways has played most every other Saturday in a residency that began in 1994.
Gradually, the band has built an extremley loyal following that continues to grow. via performances at festival shows and larger Jersey Shore clubs like the Stone Pony and the Saint in Asbury Park.
Through the years, Blue Highways have opened for or shared stages with Levon Helm and the Barnburners, the JGB Band with Merl Saunders, Buddy Cage and the New Riders of the Purple Sage – Cage’s pedal steel stylings can be heard on “Never Again, ‘Til Next Time,” – Jon Fishman and the Jazz Mandolin Project, the Black Crowes, Sam Bush, Kenny Wayne Shephard, Oteil Burbridge, and others.
Cage’s distinctive pedal steel treatments can be heard on “Still Got Time,” and other tracks on their recent “Never Again Until Next Time.” Cage has joined the band on stage at many different venues, including outdoor festivals, the Stone Pony and the band’s residency venue, Barry’s Tavern.
“Through the Internet, we’re getting a lot more interest from roots and indie music fans in places like Providence and Boston and New Hampshire,” said drummer Don Stoll, who oversees the band’s website.
In late 2005, Blue Highways were recognized for their contributions to the Jersey Shore music scene when they won “Best Roots Rock Band” in the Asbury Park Music Awards.
“We’ve been banging it out on the bar scene for 19 years, so at this point, it’s about playing quality gigs, not quantity,” Scrabis added. Scrabis, Stoll and the others realize their collective sound is what makes them unique.
~ Richard Skelly